My kids adore their dad. We embody the stereotypes a lot of time. My husband is the fun parent, the one who will play kickball with the kids for an hour, make them bacon on the grill on a Sunday morning, and put batteries in all of the toys. He’s also more patient at bedtime, easily talked into reading the kids an extra bedtime story or cuddling them for “just five more minutes.” Meanwhile, I’m typically the one who insists we stick to the schedule, get stuff done, and keeps the ball rolling.
What I love is that my husband has no issues giving my kids the affection they crave. This can be playful, like wrestling, but also when they need eye contact, hugs, and kisses. What blows my mind is that it’s 2020, and some people are still making a big stink about dads kissing their sons, like when Joe Biden gave his son Hunter a kiss on the cheek. The photo has been circulating online, and it’s obvious that some people are really insecure thanks to toxic masculinity.
I think the fear of the father-son embrace runs deep. First, there’s homophobia — why that bleeds into a father-son embrace I’m not sure, but that’s the level of decency we are dealing with. Two men embracing still makes a lot of people really uncomfortable. Yet, when two women do the same, or a man and woman, all I hear is crickets. Grandma can pluck one on her grandchild, and nobody is going to chastise her for it. But if a dude offers another dude a kiss—related or not—here come the jerks. Which brings me to my next point.
Toxic masculinity teaches us that men need to be tough, unwavering, standoffish, and always in control of their emotions. There’s no room for feelings and characteristics except for those of strength, leadership, and aggression, such as when they’re commanding the meeting, yelling at a sports game on television, or disciplining their child. Anything else is weak and feminine. I know, it’s messed up, right?
Not only does toxic masculinity hurt those around the guy, but it hurts the guy himself. If he believes he has to hold it all in and be emotionally constipated, that bleeds into his parenting. He teaches his sons that they need to be the same, and he teaches his daughters that males who express themselves emotionally are “sissies.” You know, the whole don’t-be-a-pansy, only-girls-cry type of complete, harmful nonsense.
I’m going to guess these same critics won’t buy their sons a doll and insist they never wear “girly” colors. They are the hero of every story, the knight in shining armor out to rescue the damsel in distress. These men don’t lift a finger in the house, instead insisting that their wives do all the housework and raise the kids, while holding down a job. Boys don’t wash dishes, fold laundry, or change diapers. However, they can be called upon to take out the trash, mow the grass, or learn to change out a tire. Children grow up to repeat what they’ve learned from their dads. It’s a vicious cycle.
Of course, a dad bestowing a kiss on his son isn’t the only way to ditch the patriarchy and toxicity. But it is one way to convey to everyone around them that affection is healthy, if boundaries are honored. Even within families, some kids or parents may be more affectionate than others, and they have to learn to navigate respectful boundaries and outpouring of affection within each of their comfort levels.
I get that not every family is affectionate—that it’s not their vibe to bestow physical touch upon each other. That’s absolutely fine. What’s not okay is making problematic judgments other parents for expressing their love and care in a physical way and meeting their children’s emotional needs.
Of course, consent matters. Parents should never force their kids to kiss an uncle, hug a grandparent, or any other touch that the child doesn’t consent to. We need to teach our kids from a young age that their bodies are theirs, and they shouldn’t let someone talk them into touching another person.
If a person takes issue with Biden kissing Hunter, the problem isn’t the embrace. The problem is within the person who feels compelled to voice their criticism. It’s unsurprising, as there’s always somebody who has something to say about everything, even the smallest of details like a celebrity’s stretch marks or their parenting choices. Some people just cannot help themselves, and they must get their keyboard courage on and be a jerk. Our current POTUS is an example of.
What I know is that Joe Biden has shown us that he is a rock star dad, one who has faced tremendous loss in this life, and deserves some respect for his fathering. His son’s addiction isn’t indicative of Biden’s parenting. What is? Their redemption story and their love for one another. Their ability to be open with the public about trauma, loss, addiction, and perseverance is beautiful and brings hope to other families struggling with the same.
Unfortunately, words can hurt. Celebrities aren’t immune to the harsh messages that jerks insist on posting. Furthermore, there are everyday people reading those comments, too. Toxic masculinity, homophobia, misogyny—these harm us all. Some people refuse to change and that’s on them. But for my family, and for many others, a peck or a bear hug is healthy and happy. Pucker up, buttercup. Don’t like it? Look away.